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part 3: Canadian Sewing Company Manufacturers.

 

Rogers Brothers

Frederick and Montague Rogers established their sewing machine manufactory in Hamilton in 1860 or 1861, and were probably Wanzer's first local competitors. Their machine was the first Canadian patent sewing machine to be offered for sale. Although patent specifications and ads exist which describe their machine, no actual examples have yet come to light.

The Roger's patent Double Thread and Lock Stitch Family Sewing Machine was actually a double-chain-stitch machine modeled after one patent by Grover & Baker of Boston. The basic model sold for thirty dollars; however, for those patrons who desired additional features such as silver plating, glass presser foot, rosewood case, or a machine inlaid with mother of pearl, the price rose as high as ninety dollars. Ads for the Rogers machine appeared in Hamilton newspapers until 1863, at which time the company went out of business.

 

Charles Irwin and Company

The Charles Irwin and Company sewing machine factory was established in Belleville, Canada in 1863, and is known to have manufactured one family sewing machine. This odd-looking machine formed a lock-stitch. Because of the placement of the balance wheel, the Irwin family machine was only operable by treadle action. The position of the balance wheel also necessitated a centrally located fly wheel, rather than the usual side orientation. Like the early Wanzer machine, it was attached to an iron table. The machine was patented 12 August 1863 by George Henry Meakins of Belleville, and was manufactured until about 1870, when the company disappeared from the records.

The Irwin family sewing machine received a number of awards at Ontario Provincial Exhibitions, including first prize in Kingston (1863), extra only prize in London (1866), as well a diploma from the Paris (France) Exhibition of 1867. From the several prizes awarded and the favourable opinion expressed, the Irwin machine appears to have been one of the best and most advanced shuttle machines available in the first decade of the Canadian sewing machine industry.

 

G.W. Gates and Company

This firm, which began production in 1865, was the only sewing machine manufactory to be established in Toronto. The Gates Company manufactured both chain-stitch and lock-stitch machines; unfortunately none of its machines has yet been found.

Records indicate that G.W. Gates and Company manufactured at least three kinds of sewing machines, including a chain-stitch, a shuttle machine, and a third called the New Shuttle Sewing Machine. All three were available in 1868. The Queens Elliptic was a hand-operated, chain-stitch machine which sold for fifteen dollars in 1868. It received prizes at the Provincial Exhibitions of 1866, 1868, 1869 and 1870. The New Shuttle Sewing Machine was built for family sewing as well as light manufacturing and sold for twenty-five dollars.

Although the Gates Company was a fairly small one, its machines were apparently of good quality. In addition to being shown at Provincial Exhibitions in Ontario, at least one Gates machine was also displayed at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. By 1875, the company was no longer in operation.

 

John W. Abbott and Company

In 1865 or 1866, John W. Abbott established his small sewing machine firm in St. Catherines. By 1871, J.W. Abbott and Company employed twelve men and with the help of a three-horsepower steam engine, was producing 2,500 machines a year. Although it was not a large company, it was considered to be an honest and industrious establishment and its sewing machines had a good reputation.

The Abbott Company manufactured a single-thread machine called the Abbott's Noiseless Family Sewing Machine. This small machine was peculiar in that unlike most chain-stitch machines, it could either be worked by hand or treadle. The Abbott was arranged for either light or heavy sewing, and to prove its "combination" qualities, it was put to the test at the 1867 Provincial Exhibition. The machine which "walked through a piece of shingle and a fine piece of muslin, without a change of needle," was awarded a first class prize and diploma over such competitors as Howe, Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, and various other Canadian machines.

Although Abbotts machines were manufactured in St. Catherines, they were sold through two general agents in Toronto: G.W. Grout and Company (until 1868) and W.H. White and Company (1868 -72). Acclaimed as the best family sewing machine, single- or double-threaded, that could be purchased anywhere for the price, the Abbott sold in 1868 for fifteen dollars by itself or twenty-three dollars with a black walnut stand.

John W. Abbott died in 1872, and although his two sons were involved in the business, the company did not continue manufacturing after the death of its founder.

 

Guelph Sewing Machine Company

This second sewing machine factory to be established in Guelph began production in 1869. The company was also known as Keables, Osborn and Company and later as Wilie and Osborn, after its proprietors. From the start, it was a healthy and successful enterprise, probably the third or fourth largest sewing machine manufacturer in Ontario. In 1871, it was described in the Wellington County Directory as follows:

The works are situated on the corner of Nelson, Cresent and
Paisley Street and are erected of wood, steam power is used to propel
machinery, one hundred and ten hands find constant
employment, and the company turns out about 7,000
first class sewing machines per annum.

The Guelph Sewing Machine Company manufactured two types of machines, the Guelph and the Osborn. The Guelph was a chain-stitch machine which, like the Abbott, could be operated by hand or foot. It boasted two additional features which distinguished it from the leading competition: reversible motion and a patent elastic hook. In 1870, this machine sold for fifteen dollars and was advertised as the machine for the people -- the poor as well as the rich. The Guelph was also one of the best constructed, most reliable machines on the market, taking top prizes in the single-thread category at the Provincial Exhibition annually from 1869 to 1872.

The Osborn, also introduced in 1869, was hailed as "The Great Desideratum in which all the essentials of a perfect machine are combined." The Osborn was a lock-stitch machine of high quality and workmanship, obtaining "from 1869 to 1873 the unparalleled number of Seventy-five First Prizes and Nine Second Prizes besides several diplomas and gold medals". The Osborn has a low, curved head with two overhanging arms, one which supports the presser foot and positive take-up, and the other which moves the needle up and down. This was a fairly common style on America machines in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Identifying marks on the Osborn are to be found across the top of the arm and on the casting of the stand. At the center of the brace or cross support are the letters GSMCo (Guelph Sewing Machine Company) and "Osborn" appears on the treadle. As with all sewing machines of the period, the Osborn was attractively decorated on the arm and bed with gold leaf.

While Charles Raymond branched out into exports, the Guelph Sewing Machine Company concentrated on the home market, proudly emphasizing the fact that its machines were based on Canadian innovation. All the patented principals of its machines were designed by John Osborn, one of the company's proprietors.

The Guelph Sewing Machine Company operated successfully throughout the 1870s but ran into difficulties in the early 1880s. In 1882, the company was sold to William Russell and renamed the Guelph Sewing Machine and Novelty Works. By 1884, the struggling company was producing only a limited number of sewing machines as well other iron objects and by 1887, it had closed down entirely.

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